By Roberta Rampton and Emily Flitter
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Two women accused Donald Trump of inappropriate touching in a story posted on the New York Times website on Wednesday, accusations his spokesman called “fiction” but which may further damage the Republican presidential nominee’s campaign with only four weeks to go until the Nov. 8 election.
One of the women, Jessica Leeds, appeared on camera to recount how Trump grabbed her breasts and tried to put his hand up her skirt in the first class cabin on a flight to New York in or around 1980.
The second woman, Rachel Crooks, described how Trump “kissed me directly on the mouth” in 2005 outside the elevator in Trump Tower in Manhattan, where she was a receptionist at a real estate firm.
Trump’s campaign denied there was any truth to the accounts and a senior adviser told Reuters that Trump is preparing a lawsuit against the New York Times.
“This entire article is fiction, and for the New York Times to launch a completely false, coordinated character assassination against Mr. Trump on a topic like this is dangerous,” the Trump campaign’s senior communications adviser Jason Miller said in a statement.
Reuters could not independently verify the incidents described in the New York Times story. Leeds and Crooks did not immediately respond to requests for comment from Reuters.
The report comes on the heels of a 2005 video that surfaced on Friday that showed Trump bragging about groping women, kissing them without permission, and trying to seduce a married woman.
Trump said during the second presidential debate on Sunday that he had not actually done the things he had boasted about, and apologized for his remarks, which he called private “locker room talk.”
A spokeswoman for his opponent, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, said Wednesday’s report was “disturbing.”
“These reports suggest that he lied on the debate stage and that the disgusting behavior he bragged about in the tape is more than just words,” said Jennifer Palmieri, a spokeswoman for the Clinton campaign.
Trump’s assertion that he had not groped women spurred one of the women to speak out, the New York Times said in its report.
Neither of the women reported the episodes to authorities, but they did tell friends and family members about the inappropriate touching, according to the New York Times report, which included accounts of some who were told about the incidents.
The New York Times reported that Trump, in an angry phone call, denied the incidents and threatened to sue the newspaper.
“We stand by the story, which falls clearly into the realm of public service journalism,” a New York Times spokeswoman said.
In the hour immediately following the publication of the New York Times story, other media outlets published reports describing other incidents.
The Palm Beach Post reported a claim by Mindy McGillivray, 36, a woman in South Florida, that Trump had grabbed her bottom 13 years ago while she was working at his Mar a Lago estate as a photographer’s assistant.
“There is no truth to this whatsoever,” Trump’s spokeswoman Hope Hicks told the Post. McGillivray could not be reached for comment.
CBS showed clips from its show Entertainment Tonight in 1992 with Trump addressing a group of 10-year-old girls, telling them he would be dating one of them in 10 years. He was 46 at the time. Hicks did not respond to a request for comment on the CBS report.
The release of the video plunged Trump and the Republican Party into a crisis that has jeopardized his chances of winning the White House, when he was already lagging Clinton in national opinion polls, and has possibly put Republican control of the U.S. Congress in danger.
He was chastised by Republican leaders, and some called on him to drop out of the presidential race.
Trump escalated his attacks on U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan on Wednesday, after Ryan said he was no longer going to campaign for or defend Trump and advised House Republicans not to support the White House candidate if they did not want to.
Trump told thousands of supporters jammed into a livestock arena in Ocala, Florida, that Ryan and others had not congratulated him on his debate performance, and the crowd booed in sympathy.
“There is a whole deal going on there. There is a whole deal going on and we’re going to figure it out. I always figure things out. But there’s a whole sinister deal going on,” Trump said.
Former Republican House Speaker John Boehner said in an interview on Fox News Channel that he would vote for Trump in spite of being “disgusted” by his comments, because he wanted to see conservative justices named to the Supreme Court.
The interview was taped before the New York Times story was published, but Boehner said he thought it was likely that more negative stories would emerge in the last month of the campaign.
“What more could be said in this election cycle than has already been said?” Boehner asked. “It couldn’t be any worse, could it?”
(Additional reporting by Emily Flitter, Jonathan Allen, Emily Stephenson, Susan Cornwell, David Morgan, Michelle Conlin, Eric Beech and Eric Walsh; Editing by Caren Bohan and Bill Rigby)
IMAGE: Republican nominee Donald Trump holds up signs at the end of a campaign rally in Lakeland, Florida, U.S., October 12, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar